HIV/AIDS summit unites experts, activists. Their goal: Stop the disease

October 10, 2014 | by Denise Heady

Alexandra Levine, M.D., M.A.C.P. Alexandra Levine, chief medical officer of City of Hope and deputy director for clinical programs of the cancer center, reflects on how far HIV/AIDS treatment has come. But more must be done, she says.

First, the good news: HIV infections have dropped dramatically over the past 30 years. Doctors, researchers and health officials have made great strides in preventing and treating the disease, turning what was once a death sentence into, for some, a chronic condition. Now, the reality check: HIV is still a worldwide health threat.

Worldwide, more than 34 million people are living with HIV or AIDs, and 1.1 million of those live in the United States.

City of Hope’s eighth annual San Gabriel Valley HIV/AIDS Action Summit brought together experts and activists to discuss, and help raise awareness of, the prevention, treatment and ultimate cure of HIV and AIDS.

Former State Assemblymember Anthony J. Portantino co-hosted the event, which included students from Duarte High School, Blair High School’s Health Careers Academy, CIS Academy in Pasadena, California, and the Applied Technology Center high school in Montebello.

Alexandra Levine, M.D., M.A.C.P., chief medical officer of City of Hope and deputy director for clinical programs of the cancer center, reflected on how far HIV/AIDS treatment has come even as she offered a stark reminder of today's reality. Even though HIV is no longer a death sentence, she said, the disease is not to be taken lightly.

Levine, an expert in blood disorders who was on the front lines of the early fight against HIV/AIDS, noted that once people are infected with HIV, they need to be on medication for the rest of their lives.

"Drugs are miraculous, but they do not cure," she said.

To highlight the importance of advocating for more HIV/AIDS research and awareness, Levine shared some grim statistics:

  • Each day, more than 7,000 new infections occur worldwide.
  • Every 9.2 minutes, someone is infected with the HIV virus.
  • 18,000 people die every year in the U.S. from HIV and AIDS.
  • Only 24 percent of HIV-infected people are taking anti-viral drugs.
  • 39 percent of all new HIV infections occur in people age 13 to 29.
One of the main reasons these numbers are so startling is because many people don’t know they're infected with HIV, said Levine. And because it can take approximately 10 years for any symptoms to appear, people can unknowingly spread the virus for years.

Educating young people on HIV/AIDS and getting the word out to others is critical to decreasing the incidence rates of the disease. According to Levine, the most important thing a person can do is simply “respect yourself.” Respect yourself enough to be aware and protect yourself from the virus, she said.

Keynote speaker Herb K. Schultz, president and CEO of Eisner Pediatric & Family Medical Center and Pediatric & Family Medical Foundation, also shared his personal journey with HIV to the students.

The summit also featured two panel discussions. One was led by Planned Parenthood, whose representatives urged students to raise their voices via social media. The second panel featured experts who examined promising new tools to achieve an AIDS-free generation.


Learn more about:

- a new approach to HIV treatment that could eliminate the virus' tyranny once and for all 

- research by John Zaia, M.D., chair of the Department of Virology and the Aaron D. Miller and Edith Miller Chair in Gene Therapy at City of Hope

- virology research at City of Hope  


Categories : Research

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